Scott's Movie Review: LIMITLESS
Published: March 21, 2011 - 6:58am
Directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist) and based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, Limitless is the story of haggard, wearisome, aspiring auteur Eddie Morrah (Bradley Cooper) who has just been dumped by his not-so-wearisome girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish). Further down on his luck, Eddie has a chance encounter with his drug dealing ex-brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth).
A few drinks and awkward catching up later, Eddie is supplied his first fortuitous taste of NZT, an experimental pharmaceutical purported to reach the terminus of human brain function. After a moment of pause Eddie downs the pill, transforming him almost instantly into a cerebral dynamo. Eddie’s newly found drug-induced ability improves him in ways previously unimaginable, eventually propelling him through the financial industry and catching the eye of big business mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). The mogul’s intentions become to appropriate Eddie for the purpose of orchestrating the single largest corporate merger in history. Although the rise is meteoric, Eddie finds himself entrenched in battles with NZT withdrawal, being tailed by unknown entities, and run-ins with a Russian loan shark.
Bradley Cooper, accustomed to sharp, witty supporting roles, does perfectly well carrying the load as a first-time leading man outside of a romantic comedy. Eddie’s evolution from slovenly ne’er-do-well to super-ingenious playboy comes at you fast, but is never marginalized by Cooper; especially scenes in which Eddie is dulled and sickly from NZT withdrawal.
The supporting cast is all around very good. Abby Cornish is aptly cast as Lindy, particularly shining when her character is brought back into Eddie’s life and put under duress by the same shadowy forces. There is nothing the least bit flashy about Robert De Niro’s Carl Van Loon, and that’s a good thing. De Niro’s über-mogul is shrewd, cold, and abrupt. Neither ever stealing a scene nor pulling focus, De Niro is at his nondescript finest here. Markedly superior is Welsh-born character actor Andrew Howard as Russian loan shark Gennady. Howard is absolutely stellar in the few scenes he’s given, morphing seamlessly into the ruthless mobster with the warmth and fuzziness of a Siberian gulag.
The photography by Jo Willems (30 Days of Night, Confessions of a Shopaholic) in concert with visual effects work is at times reminiscent of many elements of Fight Club, often dizzying and intrusive, but never disorienting. The action flash is present, only without groan-inducing repetition like Michael Bay’s “dolly forward/jets overhead” school of camera placement.
Where Limitless is no longer “limitless”—but rather “finite”—is in Leslie Dixon’s screenplay. Dixon, whose last four feature film releases are comprised of Freaky Friday, Just Like Heaven, Hairspray, and The Heartbreak Kid, is already a surprising choice to adapt a techno-thriller novel. Writing in a new genre doesn’t preclude one from being successful. That said, much of the execution in this film simply doesn’t work. Queries arise throughout, for instance: why Eddie is capable of algorithmically going from zero-to-Will Hunting in thirty seconds flat, successfully diagnose a vast array of maladies, grasp new languages in mere hours, perceive actions slightly ahead of time, and yet is unable to synthesize more NZT without consultation. The end result is a plot with chasms rather than a few nitpicky holes.
It is at the climax of the film when Eddie’s “limitless” power is fully realized. Unfortunately for the audience, this revelation is less a punch in the gut as it is just a delivery system for vital story information; seeing as it says so in the script and all. Load up on plenty of popcorn and Red Vines. The writing of Limitless provides little to chew on.
In conclusion, Limitless is a perfect example of many projects caught in the post-award season, pre-summer blockbuster doldrums. Neither broad and ‘explodey’ enough for the summer nor thoughtful and brave enough for the fall. This film is recommended for those looking for a well-performed and at times darkly humorous thrill ride, but not if you’re taking NZT.